There are some choices that are done in the name of love. Fen, by British playwright Caryl Churchill, directed by Patricia Lynn, presents the choices many would not consider. As the audience walks into the lower theater of IATI, the set is staged with five metal wash buckets used for collecting vegetables and stones, a table and two chairs, all representative of the agricultural life in Britain in 1983. Most of the townspeople work on the local farm. They share their stories and also bare their shame there.
Upon entering, the audience finds itself in the middle of a love affair between Val (Aimee Ranger) and Frank (David Rudi Utter). She has left her husband and two daughters to be with the man she loves. She has broken traditional gender roles and is torn with being morally correct and being with the love of her life.
As the play continues, the audience is introduced to a daughter and her stepmother, played by Lauren Lubow and Katie Consamus, respectively. All the characters take on multiple roles, and among the outstanding cast, Lubow skillfully switches out of hers effortlessly and poignantly.
The women’s stories are intriguing and tragic. Their lives reflect the small-town and farming mentality where poverty permeates the air. Love is often not a choice but a luxury. We see the abuse of a stepmother continue, a farm owner contemplating selling his land; we see hunger and loss. All through these stories is woven the notion of love and what it means for these people. Churchill is a great storyteller and her characters, although there are many to keep track of, reflect the deepness of her words.
Throughout, Lynn has drawn excellent performances from her actors. Lynn does a spectacular job of organizing seamless transitions and strategic blocking; still, the number of characters became confusing. Additionally, Lynn and set design consultant Allyson Lubow’s use of the space was excellent. The space can feel rather confining, but the production used all of it efficiently and relevantly. It felt like we were in the outskirts of their world, peeping in quietly.
As Val comes to grips with the dilemma of leaving her family for love, she arrives at a decision that will end her misery.The decision may seem rash and illogical to a viewer, but considering her outlook on life, it might have been the best one.
Fen leaves audiences thinking about choice and love and everything in between.
Presented by Red Garnet Theater Company at the IATI Theater Black Box, 64 East 4th St. Closed Feb. 21.